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A new world for telecommunications in critical infrastructure

It’s not gone by any means, but when it comes to traditional landline telephone service, which you sometimes hear called plain old telephone service, or POTS, wireless and IP technologies are rapidly becoming the preference of Americans.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) estimates that in 2013 alone, about one in seven households dropped their public-switched telephone network (PSTN) service. Ajit Pai, an FCC commissioner, expanded on that during testimony at Congressional budget hearings in March 2014, saying, “33.6 million Americans dropped their copper landlines over the past four years.”

Individual consumer choice is being driven more by the convergence of technology and cost than by a full understanding of the potential impact on reliability. A report from the National Center for Health Statistics, Wireless Substitution: Early Release of Estimates From the National Health Interview Survey, July–December 2013, says approximately two-thirds of adults aged 25–29 live in households with only wireless telephones. An estimated 40 percent of U.S. homes have no landline phone. That figure rises to more than 50 percent of households for those aged 18-34.

USA city lights. Elements of this image furnished by NASAUnlike individual consumers, operators of critical infrastructure telecommunications networks have systems designed to operate during emergency and disaster conditions. These critical infrastructure standards-based systems and applications operate over private, public and shared networks, and can be required to cover multiple regions and states, even the entire country.

These systems have been migrating to fiber optic networks that integrate IP and PSTN technology, and that also support legacy systems. Operators of these systems and networks understand the impact on lives and property if network reliability degrades during the transition process.

Based on recent efforts by carriers to drop traditional landline services support, critical infrastructure network operators are going through cost, risk and benefit analyses of plans to migrate to IP-based network systems and applications. This transition process is significant in cost, but also in resources to manage the planning, implementation, integration and cutover process. All this has to be done while safely maintaining system integrity and reliability.

To help address migration challenges, telecommunication equipment manufacturers are offering a suite of telecommunication technologies to support multiple IP applications on the same network. These multi-system and application network solutions are critical to ensuring that not only legacy and existing applications are supported, but also evolving next generation multimedia applications.

Just as consumers have adopted multimedia mobility, critical infrastructure users are implementing multimedia systems such as interactive video to improve daily operations, security monitoring and control, and field response, with the goal of addressing reliability and privacy requirements. For that reason, the federal government has allocated spectrum and funds for the FirstNet network for first responders.

As other critical infrastructure operators such as electric utilities begin to eliminate traditional landline services, we are seeing them expand cutovers to IP while implementing fiber and microwave strategies for private wide-area networks. And while that process continues, they and their business partners will have to ensure the quality of their services aren’t negatively affected during the IP transition process.


About the author

Dan is our account executive in the Critical Infrastructure market and has more than 35 years of providing customer-driven technology and energy solutions to critical infrastructure operators in the United States and Canada. He focuses on critical intelligent infrastructure, from smart grids to communications connections, and how they are used as consumers become energy portfolio managers.